Power and Religion in Baroque Rome

Barberini Cultural Policies


In ten chapters, partly case-studies, this monograph analyzes the (new) ways in which cultural manifestations were used to create the necessary preconditions for (religious) policy and power in the Rome of Urban VIII (1623-1644). It was the intensified interaction between culture and power-politics that created what we now call ‘the Baroque’. Based on a rich variety of, hitherto largely unexplored, primary sources, the book addresses the basic issues of papal power in the post-Tridentine period. It does not study actual papal politics, but rather the cultural forms that were essential to the representation and legitimatization of the papacy’s power, both secular and religious and that (co-)determined the effectiviness of papal policy. Precisely during Urban’s long pontificate, the manifold, always imaginative and often unexpected uses of power representation became, in the end, not so much a series of cultural forms as, in a sense, the structure of early modern (Roman) society.
Open Access


Open Access

Biographical Note

Peter Rietbergen, Ph.D. (Nijmegen 1983), is Professor of Post-medieval Cultural History at the Radboud University, Nijmegen. He published extensively on early modern (cultural) history, as well as on the history of the relations between Asia and the West. In 2005, the revised edition of his succesful Europe: A Cultural History was published by Routledge.

Review Quotes

"It is certainly one of the merits of this book that the author analyses the prevailing themes of Barberini's poetry and gives due consideration to how these themes contributed to his cultural patronage. The politics behind the publication and illustration of anthologies of the pope's poetry are likewise illuminating. The habitual appointment of one of Urban's nephews, Francesco Barberini, to the post of cardinal-padrone inspired a courtier to write a lengthy memorandum on how he ought to exercise that function. Here again, Rietbergen's sustained digging in the Roman archives bears copious fruit. [...] The reader is bound to be impressed by the wide-ranging erudition displayed in this book."
Luc Duerloo, Church History and Religious Culture

"Insgesamt zeigt der Verfasser, wie lohnend es ist, ein breites Spektrum historischer Forschungsfelder und Nachbardisziplinen in moderne Kulturgeschichtsschreibung zu integrieren. Wer sich künftig mit kulturell-politischen Aspekten im barocken Rom auch über den Pontifikat des Barberini-Papstes hinaus auseinandersetzt, wird in den Studien von Peter Rietbergen zahlreiche Anregungen finden."
Ricarda Matheus, sehepunkte 9:11 (2009) [15.11.2009],

"Dankzij het voorliggende boek - in feite een reeks samenhangende studies - van de Nijmeegse cultuurhistoricus Peter Rietbergen zijn wij nu echter in staat om deze veelzijdige paus te leren kennen als kind én schepper van zijn tijd, de tijd van de Barok."
Charles Caspers, Trajecta 17:4 (2008) 439-440.

Table of contents

Introduction. When the bees flew…
Prologue. Giacinto Gigli, chronicler, or: power in the streets of Rome

1. The Barberini build a chapel, or: rising to power in post-Tridentine Rome
2. Maffeo Barberini - Urban VIII, the Poet-Pope, or: the power of poetic propaganda
3. The ‘Days and Works’ of Francesco, Cardinal Barberini, or: how to be a powerful cardinal-padrone?
4. Prince Eckembergh comes to dinner, or: power through culinary ceremony
5. The Bare Feet of St Augustine, or: the power of religious images
6. Lucas Holste (1596–1661), scholar and librarian, or: the power of books and libraries
7. Ibrahim al-Hakilani (1605–1664), or: the power of scholarship and publishing
8. Urban VIII between White Magic and Black Magic, or: holy and unholy power

Epilogue. The Return of the Muses: instruments of cultural policy in Barberini Rome, 1623–1644
Conclusion. “l’Età fortunata del Mele”, or ‘Honey’s Happy Age’: the Barberini pontificate as a generation, a crossroads—problems of perspective


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